Annual commemoration of Robert E. Lee at Baltimore monument does not take place as commission recommends removal of statue
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. We’re in Wyman Park, in front of the Confederate statue to General Robert E. Lee. The Friends Quaker Association and the Black Lives Matter movement have joined forces to show their support for the removal of the statues to Virginia. But the Daughters of the Confederacy, who have protested here for several years, are no-shows. This was the scene last year, as supporters of Confederate general Robert E. Lee held their annual ceremony to commemorate him on the eve of Martin Luther King day. The Real News was there as the Quakers protested the ceremony to honor the life of one of the most well-known defenders of slavery and the Confederacy. SPEAKER: Only a parasite would denigrate the service of our Confederate ancestors. And only a parasite would inject the malicious bile of calumny and fabrication into the bloodstream of our Southern heritage. GRAHAM: But a year later supporters failed to show, as Black Lives Matter protesters joined the Quakers to show their support for plans to remove the monument from the park. MARVIN “DOC” CHEATHAM: The statue needed to go. We’re very happy that the commissioned officer decided to remove the [inaud.] statue, and we’re now just hoping that the mayor will, in fact, follow through. I’ve already talked with council people. The support seems to be strongly there. GRAHAM: The recommendation to relocate the statue to Virginia was announced last week, by a panel tasked with deciding what to do with the four statues erected throughout the city, a process that shed light on the fact that their use of Confederate symbology had little to do with the war itself, but instead were erected between the turn of the century in the 1940s, in tandem with Baltimore’s historic push to segregate white and African-American communities. JAMES LOEWEN: The monuments are the creation of a period of American history … It has a name, but most Americans don’t know that name, and that’s the nadir of race relations. And that’s this sad period from 1890 all the way to 1940, when the United States, white folks, anyway, went more racist in our thinking than at any other period. That’s when they’re from. GRAHAM: We spoke to many protesters who told us this commemoration to racism and separation have no place in a city that’s predominantly African-American. ELIZABETH WOODSON, TRNN: So what are your thoughts on today’s protest? CARRIE: We’re really happy that the Sons of the Confederate Veterans are not here today. We’re aware that the city is doing a review of Confederate monuments, and this is one of two that’s up for possible removal. That decision hasn’t been made yet. But it’s still heartening to us to know that by vigiling silently to present another view of what they’re doing, that we might have had some impact on their thinking. ANN KIHINDE: Predominantly Quaker groups have held a silent vigil, or protest, across the street from where the Sons of Confederate Veterans honor Lee and Jackson for their birthdays. But they do it on the Saturday before Dr. King’s birthday. And as our signs have said, the monument was erected and dedicated in 1948. Dr. King’s birthday was declared a federal holiday in 1986. And they started holding their celebration in 1987. There may have been celebrations prior to this, but that’s when the Sons of Confederate Veterans started holding their commemoration, and it says so right on their website. We feel that’s wrong. They should not be doing this on the Saturday where we’re celebrating Dr. King’s legacy. … See that they were planning to have their event. But I was surprised that they wouldn’t. They’ve had it 11:00 every Saturday. So we decided we would still come today and be ready in case they came. We did learn–well, first of all I can tell, because they’re usually here by around 9:30. They park on my street, they get out, they get ready, they assemble, and then they march across, and we weren’t seeing anybody. I had seen nothing on the internet, but I did see a small little note that there might be a, a birthday celebration next Saturday. MAVIS: Well, I’m here with the Quakers, the Baltimore monthly meeting, and they’re the working group on Quakers speak on racism. And we’re here to support the Black Lives Matter vigil. PROTESTER: Symbolic. Symbolism. Artistic expression. Artistic form of protest. All right–. CHEATHAM: You know, it’s a good day. It’s a good day to show that, you know, things can happen, but we can make the right adjustment. We declared we did not want any damage to come to these statues, but they are in an inappropriate place. You know, Maryland was not one of those that was included in the Emancipation Proclamation, because we were still with the union at that point. Yes, we had slavery, yes there were supporters here that were supportive of the Confederacy. But the individual who paid for this statue and the [inaud.] inscription around that statue, they’re honoring them. They’re honoring someone that not only lost the war, but was wrong. The United States went in a different direction. They were wrong, and we shouldn’t be honoring it. GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham, Stephen Janis, and Elizabeth Woodson for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
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